Family and friends gathered to watch campers perform songs and dances to show off their “superpowers” on Saturday.
The Superhero Inclusive Performing Arts Summer Camp was designed with kids on the autism spectrum or who have other developmental disabilities in mind, hoping to give them the chance to experience a summer camp targeted to their ability levels.
Kristen DeBenedetto, owner and director of The Mindful Movement Center for Dance, and Rodney Dong of Dolce Music Services both provide therapy services for youth with special needs.
After realizing there aren’t any camps that specifically target kids with special needs in the local area, they decided to create their own performing arts camp, so that children with special needs could have the chance to be creative and express themselves.
The superhero-themed program is centered around dance, theater and musical therapies to help kids of any age or ability to “find their inner superpowers,” according to DeBenedetto.
DeBenedetto and Dong then brought in Kathleen White, a mother to a child on the spectrum and someone with a background in theater, to add some acting and improvisation activities.
“These kids are absolutely amazing,” DeBenedetto said. “It was really fun to see some of our more hesitant campers make connections with others and those relationships form, which was surprising but wonderful. I think that was my favorite part.”
The performance marked the end of the week-long arts and expression camp, which allowed campers to learn to express themselves in a supportive environment and gain confidence.
“This is my favorite time of the year,” camper Kiran Dong, 8, said.
“Thanks for having this nice camp to come to,” he said to the camp directors. “You guys are the best.”
Kiran then sang “Don’t Give Up” by Peter Gabriel, which he said makes him strong. The song taught him, “if I ever get upset, don’t give up and try again,” he added.
During the show, campers did a drumming routine, a musical performance with audience participation and solo performances, as well as various superhero-related activities, such as a superhero poem.
“Superheros sound like rattle rattle; superheros smell like pizza; superheros taste like chocolate; superheros look like strength, superheros feel like concrete (because that’s generally where they end up),” the poem read.
They also did a raffle to raise money for next year’s camp and for the scholarships they provide for those who cannot afford to attend the camp.
Kelli Williams’ son Saki, 14, has attended the camp both years and said he really likes it.
“It’s nice to have people who accept him,” Williams said. “I feel like if he went to a regular camp, kids would judge him, so it’s cool to be at a camp where everybody understands him, accepts him and he can do his thing and be himself.”
The goal for the camp’s organizers is to create a nonprofit, so they can expand the camp and create similar year-round workshops.
“Our hope is that we will be able to continue this moving forward for many, many more years and include more kids because really the whole idea behind this camp is inclusion, which is what really makes it so special,” Dong said.